Keeping Up with Changes in the Digital Music Arena

Sometimes, being an early adopter can be a huge pain. About 2 years ago, I decided to start ripping my CD collection so that I could set up a server on my home network and play music from any machine in the house. I eventually reached the point where I set up a spare system attached to the stereo in the family room so that I could get a little better sound and listen from the pool or yard when I got the urge. Then some of my original decisions started to cause problems. Because of the price/size factor on hard disks when I first started ripping my CDs, I had made three decisions:

  • I could afford a pair of 17GB hard disks to dedicate to this task.
  • I would use Windows Media Audio (WMA) format rather than MP3 because of size and sound preferences.
  • I would use a 96Kbps encoding level because it was the best compromise between size and sound in the WMA format. I owned all the CDs I was encoding, and I could always play the CD if I wanted the best recording quality.

In the past 2 years, at least three major changes have occurred that affect my CD ripping:

  • Hard disks have gotten larger and cheaper.
  • Microsoft has released WMA 8, a more efficient version of its WMA format.
  • Listening to songs ripped from my CDs has almost completely replaced listening to the CDs themselves, to the extent that when I buy a new CD, I rip it first and then put the CD into the rotation in my car's CD changer.

Because of those changes, I decided to re-rip my CD collection using WMA 8 at 128Kbps. Also, some of the new ripping software lets me rip an entire CD, or a group of tracks, as one file. Now I can avoid that annoying pause when playing back long classical pieces that are split over multiple CD tracks.

So for slightly less than I paid for two 17GB disks (I'll move both to other machines on my home network), I ordered a pair of 60GB Fast ATA disks and a Promise ATA/100 controller card to install in one of my Windows 2000 Server machines. I'll use the new disks to extend an existing 30GB volume to give me a 150GB target for my current CD ripping as well as for the near future. I currently have about 45GB of 96Kbps WMA files on two different machines; as 128Kbps files, they'll take up about 60GB. And I haven't yet bought all the CDs I need to satisfy my CD club's requirements.

I started ripping CDs again last weekend (I've finished several hundred so far), and the entire task should be complete in a few weeks. I hope I've established a suitable standard so I don't have to do this again in the near future.

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